Review: Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea

Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One was disappointing. It was nice to be back in Rapture and spend a little bit of time with the city as it existed before crumbling prior to the events of the first Bioshock. But the combat was a little too familiar and the experience was over almost before it began, ending with an information dump/cliffhanger that made my head spin. If the plot had been doled out a little better over its running length, the abrupt ending would’ve been a little easier to stomach. Knowing that it was just the end of the first half of the experience and there would be a months-long wait for the second half just made the whole thing more aggravating.

This guy made the end of Episode 1 an aggravating experience.
This guy made the end of Episode 1 an aggravating experience.

Good thing, then, that Episode Two is so much better in just about every conceivable way.

I’m going to avoid talking about the plot as much as I can, because it deserves to be experienced without even minor spoilers. That said, Episode Two puts you in Elizabeth’s shoes for the first time, and it’s not just a voice-and-skin swap. She’s significantly more fragile than Booker, and has to rely on stealth to get her through most splicer-infested areas, especially on the game’s hard difficulty. She has a couple of new plasmids and weapons to help her in this endeavor, along with a stealth indicator that appears above her enemies, but none of it feels out of place, and the execution is consistently fun (and this is coming from someone who is generally terrible at stealth-based games).

Although I still essentially finished the game in a single sitting, it was a much longer sitting than I expected. I spent most of yesterday playing through it, and although I died a good bit (and this time out death is always permanent, another first for the series), most of the time I was moving forward, picking off splicers, listening to new audio diaries, and filling in previously-unexplained backstory for both the original Bioshock and Infinite. If creator Ken Levine had to retcon a lot of these details into the Bioshock mythology, you wouldn’t know it playing through Burial at Sea. It feels like this was always going to be the ending/beginning, a bridge between the two games that makes perfect sense of the jarring connection initially uncovered in the final moments of Bioshock Infinite.

The crossbow was my favorite way to pick off unsuspecting enemies throughout Episode 2
The crossbow was my favorite way to pick off unsuspecting enemies throughout Episode 2

Taken together as a whole, Burial at Sea is more than worth its rather high (for downloadable content) asking price. The ludonarrative dissonance that defines the entire series (why the hell am I sitting at a vending machine buying bullets when there are unhinged junkies all around? Why do I open up desks and drawers scrounging for money and eating and drinking everything in my path?) is still present, but so is the stellar writing and acting, which come together for another sucker punch of an ending. Just like when I finished the original story of Infinite, I stared at the credits scrolling by trying to process what I’d just seen for a few minutes.

I know that the world of Bioshock will continue to grow, but Burial at Sea feels like the end of an era (and considering the recent shuttering of Irrational Games, it most certainly is). I generally feel the same way about DLC that I do about bonus tracks on albums: sometimes good additions, but often unnecessary and almost always nonessential to the point of distraction. But this is different. If you’ve played both Bioshock and Infinite, and want to spend a little more time in Rapture figuring out what makes it tick and how it all came tumbling down, it is absolutely worth your time and money to pick up Burial at Sea.

Replay: Interstate ’76–Completion

(Note: I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, but just now got around to making the screenshots for it. I am still kinda terrible at blogging)

Shortly after my last post, I hit a brick wall. I had previously decided to play I’76 on the game’s middle difficulty, Champ, after breezing through the first couple of missions. I am also a glutton for punishment and am known to play games on harder-than-optimal difficulties for the greater sense of accomplishment and to prolong the experience artificially. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but I honestly get more enjoyment out of finally getting through a tough section of a game. But that’s the topic of another post entirely.

The point is, Scene (the game’s name for the single player campaign’s missions) 7 was kicking my ass. I read through a little bit of strategy for the game as a whole and the mission itself, and remembered that one of the game’s great keys (which you can totally ignore) is a sidearm mechanic where you can pick off a car that’s in the red by aiming your .45 out the side window of your car. If done right, it can drastically diminish the amount of time and ammo spent on each opponent, and once the mission’s over, you’re more likely to get undamaged loot to add to your own car, because you didn’t literally blow every car up to complete the prior mission.

The dreaded cops who stalled out my progress for so long
The dreaded cops who stalled out my progress for so long

One thing I had never even messed with before was my car’s armor and chassis distribution. After many deaths at the hands of Scene 6, I finally made it through by armoring up as much as possible and killing enough of my corrupt cop opponents in a short enough time to limp through their removed roadblock. I also had to regularly shut off my engine to avoid the radar lock of a helicopter overhead.

I’m spending so much time describing this one mission because it’s honestly where I spent a pretty good chunk of my total time with the game. None of the game’s other missions provided nearly the level of challenge this one did, thanks to its leap in difficulty coupled with my own poor strategy in the first few scenes resulting in less capable gear than I otherwise could’ve had. Once I made it through that, things were pretty smooth sailing to the conclusion, despite the fact that I was less than halfway through the game at that point.

A mid-to-late game escort mission. Once again, I'm impressed how much the lighting changes the overall feel of the mission
A mid-to-late game escort mission. Once again, I’m impressed how much the lighting changes the overall feel of the mission

The game’s developers tried to vary the mission structure as much as possible, providing a number of different escort missions, protect-this-building objectives, and even a brief (and kind of silly) stealth scenario, but generally the goal was to shoot the other cars without getting blown up myself. There are a couple of mazes and a few light puzzles (like a water tower that blows up into a ramp to jump over the wall of an otherwise impregnable fortress) as well, but I think when all was said and done I spent maybe 5 hours with the single player campaign. If this were still 1997, I could hop online and blow up the cars of some strangers, but as it is, I’m kind of sad it’s over already.

 

Before and after of the water tower/ramp. The first time I tried to use it I flipped over and had to restart the mission
Before and after of the water tower/ramp. The first time I tried to use it I flipped over and had to restart the mission

I should take a minute to talk about the game’s music. Though the funk soundtrack that accompanies every mission can feel a little dissonant sometimes, for the most part it adds to the late-70s atmosphere of the game. One track in particular has a pretty perfect “shit just got real and you need to fix it immediately” urgency to it, and it’s no surprise that the game’s final cutscene uses it to good effect. I actually had trouble getting the soundtrack to play during the game’s missions, so I manually queued up each mp3 (originally Redbook audio that could be played in any CD player) and set it to loop before I started each new scene. I put a couple of hours into trying to get it to work properly, and the expansion that comes with GOG.com’s downloadable version of the game works as intended, but for whatever reason, I had to settle for a workaround in order to get the complete experience.

Overall, I’m glad that I took the time to get it running (more-or-less) properly, because it brought back some good memories. I can picture being downstairs in my parents’ den, upstairs at my friend Bret’s, and in my cousin Matthew’s kitchen, all locations of computers where I originally played the game. Certain songs and line readings in particular brought me back to a time when afternoons and weekends were for video games, my parents’ disdain be damned.